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Month: August, 2015

Confidence

Swimmer fails to cross Strait of Juan de Fuca” is what the AP reported the next day. Swimmer, me. Fails, what I did.

I remember thinking two days later, “today is the first day of my training for next year.” My determination and ambition lasted through the autumn, but something else crept in during that time. Doubt.

This had been my first attempt at planning a swim, and I had, as the press said, failed to complete it. I knew I was in good company in this body of water, with over a hundred other failed attempts on the books, a few people eventually returning for a successful crossing, but that wasn’t much consolation. What would I do differently next year? If I got it wrong the first time, what more did I know now to get it right the second time? As November approached, the thought of repeating a failure terrified me. I needed another plan.

First, I needed to prove that I could handle a big swim. I needed to be certain that I could train for and complete something big, and leave the planning to someone else for a moment. So I signed up for the biggest organized challenge I could find: 8 Bridges. And I completed it.

Second, I needed to prove that I could plan a successful swim. I needed to be sure that my assumptions worked and my preparations were adequate. So the Summer of Bert was hatched, a series of two original swims followed by the Strait, all inspired by the first person to cross the Strait. These first two would be training swims, big, big training swims. Dress rehearsals, if you will.

Third, I needed to prove that I could handle cold water. I needed to be certain that the cold wouldn’t get to me again. So I moved all of my training outside, effective immediately, and trained only in cold water from last summer through the winter to today. For the first training swim, I swam from Tacoma to Seattle in June, I swam in cold water three hours longer than the Strait should take, and I survived.

Finally, I needed to make the Strait look small and insignificant. And how do you make a five to six hour swim look small? Swim twice as long and twice as far. So for the second training swim, I swam around Bainbridge Island, I more than doubled the time I was in the Strait in 2013, and I survived.

And now, I’ve done all that. Now I feel I’m as ready to complete this little swim as I can possibly be. Wholeheartedly, I feel ready. I am ready. This will not be nearly as hard as the last two years.

Around Bainbridge – excitement

Last Thursday, I sat on the bench at Alki and stared across the Puget Sound at the sun setting over Bainbridge Island. As I prepared for my last little swim before circling that big island, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t excited. Nervous may be a bit strong to describe my feeling. Terrified certainly is. But as I sat there, the thought of swimming for what I guessed would be twelve hours made me uneasy, given that I hardly wanted to put my suit on and swim that evening.

It was about two months after my last big swim and seven months into my season. The novelty had worn off months ago, but October still looked far away. My biggest fear for the coming weekend was: what if I don’t want to do this? A marathon swim, especially one that pushes your limits, isn’t something you complete half-hearted, and I was indifferent at best.

Erika, seated beside me on the bench, reminded me that I didn’t have to feel excited. And she was right. For it was with that same attitude that I stepped off the beach two mornings later. I stared at the flat water right as a large boat wake rolled in. My instinct told me to wait until the wake passed, but then I remembered that the sooner I start, the sooner I finish. As always, getting in was the hardest part.

The points ahead grew quickly, the shore passed by, the sea lions kept a respectful distance. Friends and swimmers and kayakers from the island came and went, excited to be a part of my adventure. The wind was behind me for most of the day, and the water was warm enough to relax in. “You know those days when it feels like you could stay in the water all day,” I asked Erika during a feed about half-way around? “Well what a good day to have that feeling.”

I never felt excited during the swim, nor before nor after. But I was ready to get started, ready to be finished, and just as ready for all the pieces that were found in between. A very wonderful, calm sort of ready.

And now there is just one more swim left in my summer. Then October.

Around Bainbridge – route

No surprises on this one. Just once around the island, taking the shortest route we can manage. Point to point to point to point.

location-map

This is a 25.5 mile circumnavigation. Thanks again to Google for helping out here.

google-route

Looking for more information? Then you may enjoy this .kmz file of the route, waypoints, and some current scouting I did last autumn.

Here it is:
bainbridge.kmz

Unassisted

This weekend, I’m going to complete an unassisted marathon swim. By unassisted, I mean I will use nothing to improve my speed, buoyancy, heat-retention, or navigation.

Well, unassisted except I’ll be swimming with the currents, so hopefully I’ll be assisted by them. But that’s it. And, of course there will be some assistance from the decades of observation and research that went into predicting those currents, not to mention the invention of the internet which made acquiring this knowledge possible, or at least made possible to acquire the books containing this knowledge, books which now sit tucked away in second-hand nautical book stores formerly unknown to me.

And I guess my speed will be assisted by the two decades of training I’ve done, and all the generational knowledge passed down to me by coaches and other swimmers on how to train a modern athlete. I’ll be swimming freestyle almost the entire time, which has only been around in the present form since 1902, giving me a speed advantage over those who lived before the twentieth century, so a bit of assistance there. And I can only do so much freestyle with the assistance of weekly physical therapy visits to keep my shoulders intact.

But otherwise, unassisted. Although I’ll be a bit more buoyant from the salt water, but surely that geologic processes don’t count as assistance, right? Oh, and there will be a little more buoyancy from the hundreds of donuts I’ve eaten this year which have increased my BMI a bit. So I guess I’ll be assisted by salt and donuts, too.

Actually, come to think of it, donuts will be assisting me in fighting off the cold. That extra bit of fat will certainly help me retain heat better than I would have otherwise. Also, I will be consuming food during my swim, which will allow me to generate body heat, so I’ll be assisted by the farmers and chemists behind maltodextrin, as well as the understanding of nutrition science as we have it in the present day, and the online retailer who sold and shipped all that powder.

And I should add, I’ll be assisted by my crew who will be throwing me food every half hour or so. They’ll also be guiding me, so I’ll be assisted by their eyes and voices, as well as their radar, GPS, and petroleum-powered engines. My crew will be on some combination of fiberglass, inflatable rubber, or plastic watercraft, so I’ll also be assisted by the advances in materials science we as a planet have made in the past few centuries. Thank you for your assistance, Industrial Revolution, thank you for making all these resulting synthetic materials possible. I’ll also be assisted by goggles to help my visual navigation. They, too, will be made of synthetic materials.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be assisted by the wind, warmed by the sun, sped by the tides, and buoyed by my friends who will be by my side the whole way.

But other than that, I’m going to do this swim “without artificial assistance to performance, other than the standard equipment of the sport” and without any “nonstandard performance-enhancing equipment, supportive contact with the swimmer, or other violation of the spirit of unassisted marathon swimming.” In other words, I’ll be unassisted.